How to talk to children and young people about war and fear of nuclear accidents

The precarious situation in Europe and the risk of nuclear accidents can be frightening for adults, adolescents and children alike. Here is some advice for you as a parent or caregiver on how to talk to children and young people about the war and the danger of radioactive emissions.

Stay informed and up to date

Children need reassurance. In a situation involving war and the risk of radioactive contamination, it is important to familiarise yourself with information from the authorities. You can find up-to-date information about the situation on the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority’s website.

Safety is contagious – when you feel safe, your children feel safe

When children feel afraid and unsafe, they need comfort and security. Take a few deep breaths and find your own peace of mind. Give your children this confidence. This applies to children of all ages. For younger children of kindergarten age, showing confidence and reassuring them that they are safe is the most important thing. For older children, from primary school age upwards, it is important to have additional information.

You could say, for example: "If something happens to the nuclear power plants in Ukraine, we in Norway might have to be extra careful for a few days. The people in charge of this country will tell us what's going on and give us good advice on what to do".

See more about how to talk to children and adolescents about their fears here (NKVTS.no).

Normalise children's reactions

It's perfectly normal to feel scared or unsafe when you hear and see frightening news or hear about something scary that has happened. The best thing you can do as an adult is talk to your children about what they're afraid of.

Some children are more afraid or insecure than others, and a quick explanation may not be enough to make a child feel safe.

It may also not be enough to talk to your children once. It’s a good idea to check in after a while, once the news has sunk in. Your children might still be afraid even though the emergency or danger is over.

Ask what questions your children have and answer as best you can

Remember that children understand more than you think. They get information from news broadcasts, social media, friends, and not least by following adults' conversations and reactions to news. Although children are given details, they lack both the maturity and life experience necessary to assemble the fragments into a meaningful whole. Children will often need the help of an adult to interpret and understand information.

Don't wait for your children to come and ask you. Ask what news they have received, what has happened at school and on social media. You could say, for example: "I understand you’ve heard about what’s happening with the war in Ukraine. Is there anything you find difficult to understand? Is there anything you've heard that makes you scared?"

Answer their questions. Try to answer as concretely as possible without giving too many details that might make your children afraid. Adapt the information to your child's age. Younger children need more concise and specific information, while older children and adolescents can handle larger amounts of information and are better able to understand context. All children are different, regardless of age, so consider the needs of the child you are talking to in terms of information and cater to this.

It's important to remember that children and adults can be afraid of different things. If your children are afraid - ask them what they are afraid of. For example, adults may be afraid of the long-term and environmental consequences of nuclear incidents, while children may be afraid that they themselves, family members or pets will be harmed by radiation.

Take a break from worrying – keep up everyday routines

It is important that children get to talk about what worries them. At the same time, it's good to take breaks from dwelling and worrying. Help your children focus on what's happening in the here and now. This can distract them from worrying.

Being excessively preoccupied with frightening news can amplify fear and insecurity. Help your children limit how much they watch the news and how much space this takes up at home. Talk about how they relate to information about frightening events and where they get information from.

Children should preferably not use a phone or screen during the last hour before bedtime.

Content provided by Nasjonalt kunnskapssenter om vold og traumatisk stress, The Norwegian Directorate of Health

Nasjonalt kunnskapssenter om vold og traumatisk stress, The Norwegian Directorate of Health. How to talk to children and young people about war and fear of nuclear accidents. [Internet]. Oslo: The Norwegian Directorate of Health; updated Monday, October 31, 2022 [retrieved Monday, May 20, 2024]. Available from: https://www.helsenorge.no/en/psykisk-helse/barn-og-unges-psykiske-helse/snakk-med-barn-og-ungdommar-om-krig-og-frykt-for-atomulykker/

Last updated Monday, October 31, 2022